Eleven months before this issue hit the stands, readers were treated to the sublime perfection of Uncanny X-Men #137, featuring spacious, meticulously choreographed artwork by John Byrne that was in turn given a sheen of crisp, clear perfection by Terry Austin’s inks. Claremont’s dialogue was lean and his command of language, perfect, even the individual words had an added elegance thanks to the machine-like precision of Tom Orzechowski’s lettering.
What a difference a year can make. Dave Cockrum is an enthusiastic and imaginative artist, but he goes for immediate impact. Eschewing Byrne’s sense of subtlety, Cockrum’s typical strategy is to pack every panel with as much action and dynamism as he can. Meanwhile, Joe Rubinstein’s inking line is much softer than Austin’s. The result of Cockrum’s exuberantly jam-packed layouts combining with Rubinstein’s less articulate inking is some messy-looking pages. Meanwhile, the less written about letter Janice Chiang’s penmanship (indeed, the less written WITH Janice Chiang’s penmanship), the better.
In short, this is a sloppy-looking comic. Not at first, granted. The opening splash images (Page 1’s image of a skimpily-attired Scott and Lee and Pages 2 and 3’s spread of an Atlantean City – rendered in shades of green by the still-superb colorist Glynis Oliver) are dynamic and eye-catching. Ditto, the full-page reveal of Magneto at the end (another classic in a long-line of Magneto splashes). It is the meat of the issue that fails to engage, as Claremont delivers one half-hearted sequence after another, his collaborators doing little to cover for the writer’s apparent lack of inspiration. The opening sequence with Scott and Lee is schizophrenic, its emotional beats confused. Scott laments his inability to relate to normal people “outside the unique high-pressure environment of the X-Men.” That would be both a logical and poignant lament if Lee didn’t act like a character out of a bad daytime soap opera.
Later, Angel quits the team (9 issues after having joined) because he thinks Wolverine is too dangerous, yet there is never a confrontation between Warren and Logan. Indeed, the only example Angel can come up with to back himself up is Wolverine’s violent dismemberment of ... a robot. Later, Banshee meets Theresa Rourke -- the daughter he never knew he had -- in a scene that is virtually incomprehensible if you haven’t read the Claremont-penned Spider-Woman issues wherein Theresa debuted.
Moira gets a halfway decent scene, in which she admits to Storm that she already resents Theresa, because Moira herself can’t ever give Sean a child; she doesn’t want to risk spawning another Proteus. That’s a canny use of continuity, and from the dialogue Claremont seems to have it in mind to make this a new arc for Moira and Banshee – but he never does. Indeed, after the huge introduction of Theresa in the Spider-Woman story, Claremont seems to immediately tire of her. He won’t use her in any significant way until Uncanny X-Men #278 – one issue before his last – and that instance was probably editorially mandated. It certainly raises the question as to just what the point is of the character.
(It is documented that Banshee’s creator, Roy Thomas, originally wanted Banshee to be female – the mythical “banshee” is a female creature – but the idea was quashed by Stan Lee. Claremont may have been attempting to fulfill Roy Thomas’ original vision, but that alone seems like a weak motivation to create a brand-new character.)
A noteworthy step in Wolverine’s development occurs in this issue when Wolverine employs an “old ninja trick” that he “learned in Japan” during a duel with Nightcrawler. Logan’s affinity for Japan was first introduced during Byrne and Claremont’s Moses Magnum arc (issues 118-119), and that seed will blossom pretty soon into a major component of Wolverine’s character. Claremont and Frank Miller’s “Shogun”-inspired Wolverine miniseries is still about a year away, but Wolverine’s ability to pull “ninja tricks” is a clue of what’s to come.
Claremont’s affection for female characters makes its presence known in the main sequence for the issue. At this point in the series, the X-Men only have two female members, but Claremont still finds a way to write a “ladies night out” story, bolstering the estrogen count through the use of Jessica “Spider-Woman” Drew (another character Claremont happened to be writing at the same time), supporting cast member Stevie Hunter, and Dazzler (who was first introduced in Uncanny #130 and whose solo series had debuted only about six months ago). A fun idea, but more awkward dialogue hampers the execution (Kitty Pryde is chastised by Ororo and Stevie for her “rudeness” after the horrendous faux pas of asking Jessica three questions about her job. Huh?)
Granted, the obligatory action sequence is competently carried out, there is obvious potential in the new mutant character Caliban, and to Claremont’s credit he writes Dazzler far more interestingly than Tom DeFalco did in the contemporaneous issues of her own comic. Furthermore, “Cry, Mutant” has some canonical significance in that it’s the story wherein Kitty decides to stop being afraid of Nightcrawler. Yet for all its amiable competence, this issue falls depressingly below the high standards that Uncanny X-Men was hitting consistently less than a year ago.